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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins–A Modern Take On How To Feel Good About Sinning, Part IV (Wrath)

Lacy Thompson was a Department Director at Cybertronics, Inc., a medium-sized firm which provided technical assistance to foreign governments to help them improve the management of public service delivery.  The firm was profitable, thanks largely to Lacy’s efforts.  Her profit center was the most remunerative by far; and she managed this through discipline, order, attention to detail, and an uncanny sense for new opportunities.  She was quickly promoted up the corporate ladder, and many in the company assumed that she would soon be elevated to the post of Senior Vice President.

Lacy, however, was intensely disliked by her staff.  Beneath a calm, determined, and often smiling demeanor, was a harsh, vindictive woman.  To look at her, one would never suspect the abuse of which she was capable. Few among her minions complained to her Board Room superiors, for the Vice Presidents were only interested in the bottom line; and by all accounts Lacy was rewriting the record books in terms of proposal wins, income generated, profits realized, and low costs.

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Lacy’s anger was expressed with vicious irony calculated to intimidate and cow her employees.  Praise was not in her repertoire unless it was the carrot to her stick. Employees were so tyrannized by her that a word of praise meant everything.  They lightened up, for perhaps Lacy might not be as bad as they had thought; but soon after, she came down with a vengeance on the worker she had praised.  Although she never raised her voice or expressed her temper her savagery was frightening and relentless .  She was always calm and deliberate, but her words were calculated to weaken and destroy, to hone in on the most fragile vulnerabilities. It was a lesson in quiet brutality that no one forgot. 

Yet her record remained clean.  She was so adept at language, so able to turn a phrase, so practiced in the power of speech, so graced with a silver tongue that she never had to use profanity or even gave the slightest hint of a racial, gender, or ethnic slur.  Her remarks were eloquent but deeply hurtful.  She targeted the intellectually limited without the use of epithets or direct reference; she simply made them feel incompetent and slow because they couldn’t understand the full import of her venomous attacks, only the gist of which was more than enough. 

One of her most potent weapons was calling upon one of the slower members of her team (company policy, influenced by lawsuits, made it difficult for her to remove them) in the presence of senior company staff.  Their bumbling remarks were enough to embarrass them out of the company; but the Vice Presidents only saw Lacy’s inclusivity.

Of what, then, was she morally guilty? Was she no different from a  marine drill sergeant who understands that individual will must be destroyed in order to build a fighting unit and feigned anger is a tool? Employees who could have left the company stayed on because her financial successes were passed on to them in the way of bonuses and salary increases.  If intimidation and a damaged self-worth was the price to be paid for well-compensated employment in a premier Washington firm, then so be it.

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Most importantly, was Lacy Thompson a wrathful person?  Was she just as threatening at home with her husband and children as she was in the office?  Was she a good, compassionate Christian in her heart; and was her office behavior simply a canny manipulation of others to produce wealth, productive employment, and the opportunity to grow the company?

Wrath, like the other deadly sins was so named because it diverted one from God’s attention.  Buddhists and Hindus have both valued temperance, the middle way, and disciplined control of emotion.  Anger, intemperate sexual desire, jealousy, competition, and  insult all were incendiary.  No one could think of God, salvation, and spiritual enlightenment when so infected by such passions.  In many ways wrath could be considered the deadliest of the deadly sins.  All the others were simply moral failings which could be forgiven and remediated.  Violent anger or permanent hostility and hatred were more inherent and harder to remove.

Yet as with all the other deadly sins, they have lost currency within the modern world.  Society has become too complex.  Motives, purpose, intent are matters for the courts; and even then the truth is only relative. Simple anger comes and goes, a human foible, too quickly expressed but easily forgiven.  Wrath, a more serious sin because of its deeply-rooted nature, is harder to forgive but never completely.  If Lacy was a good, even kind person out of the office, then should her intemperance on the 7th floor be overlooked or forgiven?

Hostility, intimidation, and humiliation are part and parcel of Wall Street, K Street, and the world of international finance and foreign affairs.  Wrath – violent anger  - is felt by world leaders who have been slighted, ignored, or tricked; but they rarely express it in public.  Instead they resort to quieter threats, working the system to discover chinks or cracks in the perimeter of opponents and would-be enemies, and exploiting them.  No American wants a compassionate, tolerant, forgiving president.

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Lacy’s downfall was not her corporate wrath but her arrogance.  The two are separate sins.  She became too big for her britches, offended her colleagues and superiors, and naively assumed that because her department was so profitable, she was invulnerable.  As a result, other department heads colluded and convinced the CEO that a reorganization was called for.  A distribution of Lacy’s departmental assets to geographical regions – the Africa Department, the Asia Department, etc. – would make more sense in an increasingly geopolitical world. 

Despite Lacy’s overwhelming financial superiority, her ability to generate revenues and profits each and every year, her department was disassembled, Balkanized, and reduced to a shell. It took years for the regional departments to realize even a fraction of the profitability of Lacy’s former department, but it didn’t matter.

No one in the company ever found out whether Lacy was indeed a harridan because she moved to California within months of her resignation, retired from her profession, and lived under everyone’s radar.  Everyone at Cybertronics was convinced of course that she was exactly the succubus she was in the office, but no one really knew.

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